Saturday 1 October 2016

Sunderland "very sorry" for letting down teenage fan in Adam Johnson case

Published 09/03/2016 | 04:41

Sunderland chief executive Margaret Byrne, pictured, has resigned in the wake of the Adam Johnson child abuse case
Sunderland chief executive Margaret Byrne, pictured, has resigned in the wake of the Adam Johnson child abuse case

Sunderland "deeply regret" letting down a 15-year-old fan after chief executive Margaret Byrne resigned in the wake of the Adam Johnson child sex abuse case.

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Byrne resigned from the club after she admitted "a serious error of judgement" in advising the board that the winger could carry on playing after he was initially suspended last March.

Johnson was allowed to carry on playing until his trial at Bradford Crown Court where last month he stunned the club by admitting two charges of grooming the girl and kissing her.

He went on to be convicted of one further charge of sexual activity with a child.

During the trial, it emerged that on May 4, the chief executive met Johnson and Orlando Pownall QC, and she had social media messages exchanged and transcripts from police interviews in which the player admitted kissing the schoolgirl.

Pressure mounted on the club after the trial, with fans angry about what the club knew about Johnson, regardless of his stated intention to deny all charges.

Byrne announced her resignation in a statement, and took full responsibility for what happened.

And the club responded saying Byrne was "accountable for the actions taken by the club" and although she acted in Sunderland's best interest, investigations found decisions were taken "in error".

The club said: "Throughout this deeply regretful situation, we recognise that one devoted young fan and her family have been very badly let down, first and foremost by Mr Johnson and his despicable actions, but also by the club they support.

"We are so very sorry for this."

Leaving Sunderland after nine years, Byrne said: "Contrary to what has been suggested, I did not understand that Mr Johnson intended to change his plea at trial or at all.

"I was astounded when he did plead guilty.

"I accept that Mr Johnson should not have been permitted to play again, irrespective of what he was going to plead.

"It was a serious error of judgement and I accept full responsibility for this."

Byrne also expressed sympathy to the girl who was groomed by the player she idolised.

She said: "Mr Johnson's victim has endured a terrible ordeal and for that I am truly sorry.

"At no time was the failure to suspend him again intended to cause any harm or distress to her or her family."

She added: "I recognise that, as CEO, my involvement with Mr Johnson and the decision to allow him to continue to represent the club was a serious mistake."

Press Association

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